The Inconvenient Truth of Ma. and Maria

There was a time – as late as the 1990s, in fact – when Filipinos with the name Maria had some of their records with the abbreviated name Ma. Most women – and some men – of this predominantly Catholic country were baptized and recorded with the civil registry with Maria as primary or secondary name. While most had it in full in their birth certificates, many have found it in their names abbreviated in their other official documents as Ma. Hence, Maria Corazon became Ma. Corazon and Jose Maria became Jose Ma.



We don’t know how this started or the motives behind the act by those records clerks in government and private institutions – expediency or just plain laziness – but for sure the practice was culturally and officially accepted. In fact, the institutions that computerized personal data early in this nation’s history like the Social Security System (SSS) and the Land Transportation Office (LTO) found it necessary to do so because it fit in the eight-character format of their database fields. In fact, LTO does it until today because of space limitation in the driver’s license card.

The problem started with globalization, and with it the credibility of the Philippine passport. There was a time when our passport issuer – the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) – simply accepted the abbreviated names because the it was still the applicant’s name. The Birth Certificate basically attested to the name even if it was abbreviated. Besides, it was such a chore to fully spell out the names because the information on the passports were handwritten. Poor clerks.

Globalization meant passport technology and information had to comply with worldwide standards, and thus the names in the passport, birth certificate and marriage certificates (and other supporting documents) should perfectly match. This becomes a real issue when applying for a visa with another country, as they ask for both birth records and passport records as well as bank and other supporting documents.

This would have been a nightmare, especially with the already clogged judicial court dockets having to hear petitions just to correct clerical errors, especially if it involves the millions of Overseas Filipino Workers whose lives depend on those travel documents.

Luckily, there is a law that was passed in March 22, 2001 called Republic Act No. 9048 entitled “An Act Authorizing the City and Municipal Civil Registrar or Consul General to Correct a Clerical or Typographical Error in an Entry and/or Change of First Name or Nickname in the Civil Register Without Need of a Judicial Order.” From the title alone, there is a major ray of hope for all those Ma.s and Marias around. (For more information on this see the FAQs of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA))

Or so it seems. Apparently, while the framers of this law intended to streamline the process, it created a whole new monster of red tape and – worse – possible corruption in the local government level.

Take the case of Maria Corazon just this week. All her records carry the full name Maria except her marriage certificate which the clerk in that catholic church in Manila abbreviated with Ma. She had no problem even with her passport renewal recently as her PSA issued birth certificate and old passport both contained Maria and the Ma. in her PSA issued marriage certificate’s Ma. was just incidental to the DFA.

Yet that single difference was glaring enough to affect the veracity of all her other documents. She decided have it corrected just to get all their ducks in a row.

So, Maria Corazon made her way from her current southern provincial home to the Manila City Hall to apply with the that city’s Civil Registrar’s office. As expected, she was asked to produce her recently issued PSA copy of her birth certificate, which she did, and the PSA issued marriage certificate which would show the Ma. that needs correcting. (Both, of course reproduced in that special security paper).

Next, she was told to produce a “local issued” marriage certificate. This perplexed her, for wasn’t a PSA issued marriage certificate printed on security paper and duly barcoded enough to prove the veracity of the document? Apparently not, according to the civil registrar’s office of Manila City Hall, because they were going to do the correction through an annotation on their own records.

So off Maria Corazon went to the records office to request for a certified true copy of her local-issued marriage certificate. Here she was shown the thick volume of records classified by date, and they found her original filed document. What was to be done, the records person said, was that she would pay for a certified true copy – which was a simple photo copy of the record with a stamp of the seal of the manila City Civil Registrar certifying it’s a true copy. Ok, so she paid the P50.00. Not bad, she thought, except the catch was she had to return the next day to get it.

Maria Corazon went home – a 50-kilometer, two-hour drive through Manila traffic – only to return the next day for her local-issued certified true copy of her marriage certificate. She came early because she was advised to be there before opening time – 6:00 AM in fact – because only 60 slots will be made available for the submission of documents and pre-interview. The documents needed ranged from copies of baptismal certificate, school records, diplomas, transcripts, copies of medical records, photocopies of school albums, employment records… basically anything official that showed her name as Maria and not Ma.

Plus, all those papers must have at least two photocopies.

Maria Corazon got her pre-interview by the skin of her teeth. She was lucky that some in line were just too pissed to wait their turn that they went home, giving her slots to move forward. Also, the food concessionaires nearby had rights to make the rounds and offer breakfast, lunch and merienda. Finally, in her turn they looked at her papers and got what they wanted, then asked her to come back for the final interview. She was stunned. But the guy in the Civil Registrar’s office said she would not have to stand in line when she returned. All she had to do was show up.

Off she went again, home down south. She returned the next day and she was ok’d for the records change and given a slip to return four months later for a copy of the corrected marriage certificate. What will happen, as she was told, is that she will be given a certified true copy with the correction and they will file it with the PSA to correct their own records.

Now the wait is on. But she feels bad for those who stood in line with her, especially the parents and grandparents of OFWs who came from far flung provinces who have to keep coming back as she did. In one case she was told by the old lady with her in line, the only correction is for the birth certificate’s original address which was “San Andres, Metro Manila” which foreign embassies did not want to accept. It should be “San Andres, Manila.” Their problem was producing documents and/ or witnesses (via affidavits) that, at the time of the person’s birth the family indeed resided in San Andres, Manila.

In which case, the correction of Ma. to Maria does not seem too bad.





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